When I was a little girl I owned a beautiful hardback copy of Ian Flemming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang . I would read over and over. And like many other children I also loved the sixties Dick Van Dyke film. It was one of the first films I saw on video, on a Betamax no less. Again, I would watch this over and over and loved all the songs in the film often prancing around the lounge to Toot-Sweet and Truly Scrumptious. Although I was petrified of the baddies and used to shriek when The Child Catcher lurked terrifyingly at the window with giant child catching nets.
It’s one of those badies ‘Baroness Bomburst’ from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that I want to discuss today.
In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Baroness is the villainess. Significant to the plot is the fact that she despises children. So much so that they are banned in Vulgaria, so people have to hide their kids in fear of capture. There is even a line in the film when one of the other characters asks about the Baroness, “Does she have children of her own?” and the reply is something like “Oh no! She’d rather die!” The Child Catcher who is her number one in court is employed by the Baroness to round up the poor children who haven’t fled or been hidden and to put them in prison.
It is all incredibly dark for a kiddies tale when you think about it. No wonder I was scared.
It’s all okay though, goodness wins the day with the help of Chitty and team. The baddies are banished; children and family life are restored in Vulagria. Truly and Potts get married. The two child protagonists of the story gain a wonderful and sweet step mum in the process. Everyone is marvelously happy.
But back to the Baroness. Her character is juvenile, stupid and vain. She even faints if people say she isn’t pretty. She wears ludicrous frilly dresses, which get more extravagant and frou-frou with each of her significant scenes in the film. The audience is left in no doubt that the Baroness as well as being anti-children – is silliness personified.
So why on earth am I banging on about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?
One of the more unfriendly charges against women who aren’t mothers is that they dislike kids.
If we take this idea to an extreme we might argue that The Baroness represents a cinematic radical version, a wicked caricature, an evil stereotype. And in examining this representation one might even claim women of a certain age without children are like her: emotionally immature, selfish, frivolous, dress ridiculously and say stupid things because they don’t understand how the real world works. Ouch!
Like all negative stereotypes these claims are dangerously over simplistic. The stereotype also ignores differences in attitude and belief. Some people like children more than other people. OK, yes, some people don’t like them at all, but it is for all sorts of complex reasons and they most certainly don’t all wear frilly dresses and faint in horror at the mention of children. Although I am in no doubt that women without children are sometimes constructed or represented in the media and in the myths of everyday life as frivolous or silly, selfish or uncaring. And I do believe the Baroness stereotype does have a little currency with some people. I say this because more than once I have been accused of being anti-children or not liking kids at all just because I started this group.
Obviously it isn’t anyone’s business how much I do or do not like children and I should not have to defend myself in such a situation to address somebody else’s social fears. I shouldn’t have to list evidence of my liking of children, servilely pointing out I’ve volunteered in a school, or raised funds for an overseas children’s charity or that I love spending time with my niece and blah blah blah. I could go on, but like I say it is not really anybody’s business but my own.
In my opinion the Baroness stereotype is beneficial to prejudice, because it is attention grabbing and provocative. It rubbishes and vilifies what is not understood – the childfree. It also illustrates unconscious ideas that still circulate in society that the childfree woman should be dreaded somehow.
I do understand that people like to categorise others and put them into neat little boxes and sometimes it is a useful way to feel better about you. This is a psychology 101 fact. I do it myself. It’s called ‘cognitive efficiency’. Hopefully I am reflective and reflexive about it enough not to hurt other people’s feelings.
Whereas this type of prejudice isn’t going to start a riot or infringe basic human rights, like some other isms and ists, it still isn’t very nice when the unconscious comes into focus is it?
What do you think, what are some of the stereotypes that still exist around the childfree and have you ever been subject to prejudice? Comments welcome below.